The first ring starts taking shape possibly even before birth and consists of the two processes: synthesising the body image and the world image, and separating these two. The latter one derives from a discrepancy between the perceived continuity of one's body and discontinuity of external reality (e.g. people ‘disappear' when they walk away) and a discrepancy between what can be directly controlled and what cannot. So, the infant starts perceiving the world as a whole, and at the same time, shimself separated from the world (which often causes anxiety). This differentiation happens gradually. At the beginning, the external is internalised, a child is in a unity with the world, but not fully conscious. As animals, infants do not know that the external world, as something outside their experiences, exists. Dreaming and reality are the same (in other words, everything is like a dream). This is why a newborn feels omnipotent; s/he is like a god in shis own world. Before the formation of the other rings there is only the present, the abilities of temporal (the past and the future) and non-temporal (abstract) thinking are not yet developed. The practical (kinaesthetic) learning mode, in conjunction with the environmental feedback, is dominant. Language is limited to simple signifiers representing single objects (‘mama', ‘doggy'). Usually, the first ring is formed around age two, but it can continue to change and grow throughout the life-span (in terms of quantitative development).
The second ring - the most important factor for its formation is the language acquisition. This ring is not based only on precepts but also concepts, which leads to further separation, expansion and greater freedom. Animals do not have this ring, so they cannot manipulate cognitive elements available to them. Conceptual thinking is a huge step in organising mental constructs (it allows, for instance, generalisation: the word ‘chair' can refer to any imagined or perceived chair). The theoretical learning mode, in conjunction with social feedback, dominates. The term ‘theoretical' is used in a broad sense that may include, for example, stories or myths since they do not have a direct practical value. This mode is mental and indirect (because it mainly comes through others). The second ring is normally formed by puberty although, as in the previous case, it can carry on developing even later.
The third ring typically starts forming around puberty or early adolescence. Usually at that time young people begin to seek the answer to the question ‘Who am I?'. This is not to say that self-identity does not exist before adolescence. However, the various concepts of ‘I' that have existed up until this point begin to coalesce into the kind of person one is and will become (Lloyed at al, 1990, p.723). The fluid personality of the child gives way to the firmer, more stable personality - ego. When ego is fully formed, one can ‘separate the self cognitively from embeddedness in the social system' (Wade, 1996, p.135), which leads to greater independence. The methods that contribute to the formation of this ring are reflection and self-reflection: examining and often reorganising beliefs about the world and oneself. They are the result of an ability to separate, distance oneself from the world and the I (a past, present, future or imagined I). All the rings are formed through relations (in the case of the first ring to the physical world, and in case of the second to the social world or culture). A relation, however, also requires a distance (there can be no relation without some distance) - in this case from oneself. So, self-reflection derives, as it were, from the interaction between the person and shis ‘I' that serves as a kind of mirror. Reflection and self-reflection enable not only objectifying and observing the elements of the mind, but also their deliberate restructuring, which increases choice. So, these processes contribute to the formation of the third ring by transforming the materials from the first two rings as well as by producing new ones. This is not to say that the third ring disposes of the previous ones, even if some of their elements may be abandoned. For example, the person at this stage may not believe in Santa Claus any more, but the idea of Santa Claus is still comprehensible to shim.
The fourth ring can start forming in late adolescence, which explains the tendency of that age group to discuss ‘deep' issues. However, this process is in most cases quickly abandoned as impractical (usually reduced to conversations after a few glasses of wine and rarely considered seriously next morning). Such an attitude is to be expected, taking into account that, parallel to reflection at the third stage, the fourth ring relies on the intuitive learning mode and resonance recognition, so it lacks the relative solidity of the previous rings. It is mostly concerned with abstractions, processes and relations, and consists of general ideas, universal principles, or issues related to meaning. Everyday language is not always adequate to fully express and anchor these ideas. Moreover, this ring usually transcends divisions between various approaches and disciplines (i.e. science, philosophy and spirituality) and moves beyond ideological constrains. Not surprisingly, a person who operates from such a position is often seen as impractical or subversive of the existing structures. This may bring about a degree of social isolation, which is why it is difficult to sustain it.
- . Although there are some differences, the first three stages of this development can be compared with Piaget's stages of cognitive development (preoperational thinking; concrete-operational thinking; formal-operational thinking), and also, all four, with Fowler's stages of faith: intuitive-projective (1); mythic-literal (between 1 and 2); synthetic-conventional (2); individuative-reflective (3); universalising (4).